Open pick-me-up for Michael Whitehead

Michael Whitehead was on the highway, driving back to Houston, when his cell phone rang.

It was a USGA official.

"The lady said, 'You still have a spot in the U.S. Open if you want it. Tiger Woods has withdrawn,'" Whitehead said. "So I was just like, 'Absolutely. Of course I'll take it. I'll take it now.'"

Instead of playing with some buddies from June 16-19, Whitehead will be playing in his first major championship at Congressional Country Club.

The phone call made the drive a little bit better for Whitehead, who missed a spot in the Open by losing in a three-man playoff at Dallas Athletic Club's Blue Course on Monday to PGA Tour veterans Harrison Frazar and Greg Chalmers.

"The drive [home] was fine," said Whitehead, who just graduated from Rice and was Conference USA's player of the year. "I made my peace with it. OK, you had an opportunity and unfortunately I didn't capitalize on it. I was OK. I don't know if stabilize is the right word, but I wasn't down in the dumps when they called. Then all of a sudden I was on cloud nine."

And now he's the guy taking Woods' spot in the Open.

"I kind of compare it to being Mr. Irrelevant at the NFL draft," Whitehead said. "That's just how it is. That's great. If people are watching, it's better to be there failing publicly than not being there at all."

Whitehead is now figuring out how to get to Bethesda, Md. The USGA has blocked off rooms at some hotels in the area, but he will reach out to some family friends and Rice alumni to see if he can stay somewhere for free.

He hopes to get there Monday and play some practice rounds.

"I don't know much about Congressional," Whitehead said. "I know it's hosted pretty significant championships in the past. I think the last one was in '97 as far as the U.S. Open is concerned. It's going to be long and tight, so I'm going to need to drive it well."

This will be Whitehead's first Open. He did not make it out of the sectional qualifier last year, but he has played in the U.S. Amateur, "so I've been in some big events, just nothing like this."

And never filling in for a golfer like Woods.

"After this, I've got a couple of Hooters Tour events lined up," Whitehead said. "Then I'm getting married at the end of July."

Todd Archer is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com.